Private Spaces A living, breathing, moving artwork

Silke Z. - Private Spaces / Soweto Theatre
Silke Z. - Private Spaces / Soweto Theatre | Photo: Private Spaces at Soweto Theatre © John Hogg

“I want to make an experiment and I need you” said the bearded dancer as he beckoned the audience to move closer. Private Spaces punctures the divides between personal, public and performance space.

“I want to make an experiment and I need you” said the bearded dancer seated in the chair as he beckoned certain members of the unseated audience to move closer to him in the boxed space of the Yellow Theatre.

Most of the audience cringed. ‘Oh no, not another lame touchy-feely audience participation improv piece’ was the silent cry as the prosaically titled Private Spaces began. A number of brave souls, mainly professional dancers and trainees from Vuyani Dance Company, gallantly stepped forward to invade the man’s highly personal spaces. They touched Antonio Cabrita’s body as requested. One had to press the artery in his neck so he could feel his heartbeat. Another had to touch his face with both hands. Another, place their hand on his heart as he fed off their energies.

In the mix was a redhead with a voracious aura. She wouldn’t let go as instructed. She started, quite literally, clawing at Cabrita’s body and throwing herself at him. It soon became evident as she pursued him (and they burnt up the floor with their bodies and emotions) that the Rubens-esque Caroline Simon, wearing a clingy low-cut red T-shirt and blue jeans, was the other half of the Private Spaces duo. In fact, Simon and director and choreographer Silke Z. were highly visible in the Soweto Theatre foyer before the performance, mingling with the crowd.

That strategy of shrinking the space between the viewer and performer in a contemporary dance context is nothing new. It has become a bit of cliché. But Silke Z’s. /resistdance from Cologne are experienced and knowledgeable enough to transcend the ordinary and familiar with astute crafting, subtle invention, excellent production values and artistic honesty.

The movement language they have developed is profoundly dynamic and complex. Cabrita’s solo on the floor combines hip hop and martial arts elements with classical dance technique. One phrase he executes is a variation of a barrel leap which builds with repetition and intensity expressing frustration and violence. The usually airy jump is condensed into a small radius propelling his floor -bound body which has the ability to both low fly and high fly. Paradoxically, Cabrita’s technical pyrotechnics and heightened physicality are charged with an eloquent elegance.

Image gallery: Private Spaces performance at Soweto Theatre

The performers’ game of spatial chess as they play out a fractious relationship sucks in the energies of the bystanders. The turning point happens in the dark when Caroline Simon who has undressed (putting her heavy shoes and clothes in a neat pile next to her) places, with pristine vulnerability, her naked milky white body on an ultra violet Keith Haring-like projection. Veins arteries and a heartbeat snake onto her body which is transformed into a living, breathing, moving, intestinal, artwork. Instinctively the audience moves closer into a circle to view what is a mortal equivalent of a stained glass window created out of blood, bone, skin hair and tissue.

We are witnessing a cathedral of life flooded with sanctity. When she gets up a painted impression of her body is fleetingly imprinted on the floor. After this the invasive performance ends all that remains in the space is a light splash of light. Where he sat, she lay, they moved – their metaphoric actions, interactions and creative synergies, remain only in the space of our mind and body memory.

Private Spaces is an inspirational dance work which punctures the divides between personal, public and performance space, with an intimate delicacy making Silke Z. /resistdance an excellent choice for the three-year Dance Dialogues Africa project.

The Cologne Company, hosted by Vuyani Dance Company, conducted four days of workshops in the Soweto Theatre prior to two performances. During and after the first performance I had a real sense of dialogue taking place - not only verbally (as happened in the post-performance Q+A) - but in the sharing of dance practice and aesthetics. As well as in the trading of ideas and concepts and how dance can blur the borders between visual art, performance art and conceptual theatre dance making.

Above all, these performances and workshops have created an indelibly intrinsic conversation about art and form. That is a very rare achievement when it comes to international exchange.
Private Spaces was performed on 27 and 28 May 2014 at the Soweto Theatre with the support of Dance Dialogues Africa, German Federal Cultural Foundation, Tanzhaus NRW and the Goethe-Institut South Africa.
Silke Z./resistdance is a dance company based in Cologne. Under the artistic direction of Silke Z., the team works on contemporary dance performances and develops cross-over concepts with artists of different fields.